The two-piece indie rock band, Sleepy Kitty, is currently on their 2013 summer tour that will be hitting many U.S. cities. While they’re on this tour, they will be writing an exclusive blog for us. You can check out their second entry, after the break.
When I think of Knoxville I think of Gay Street, a broad straight street that runs between tall, handsome old buildings from a bygone America. Cupped in the palm of the Smokey Mountains, it feels like stepping into a postcard from the ’50s.
This trip started on the other side of town, though, on a sun-bared, smoggy stretch of jammed up stripmall Broadway, so we could pick up a computer I’d mailed to myself. Standard horrible modern American herding; my heart sank.
But the fat silver traffic snakes gave up as we got closer to the Old City’s honest old brick buildings and warehouses, thumpy railroad crossings, and curl of pre-grid streets. Joy restored. We stretched our legs and started walking to the Pilot Light to check in, but got distracted by a sign reading “HOT HORSE MUSIC RECORDS VINTAGE” and some foxy guitar amps in the window. The guy behind the counter was cool, and got us oriented on the neighborhood.
The Pilot Light’s a small brick room, perfect for our needs. We loaded in and got some snacks and internet at Old City Java, where Thee Raincoats played overhead and the overheard conversations were both worldly and fascinating. The baristas (if that’s what they call themselves) were both great; I wanted to invite them to the show.
Just as we finished loading in our dear friends Smoker showed up. We haven’t seen them since we toured together in the early spring, so there was much catching up to do. Just before doors Daddy Don’t showed up—two girls and a guy blowing bubbles. The drummer, Maggie, turned out to be one of the rad baristas from the cafe, and Charice, the gal banging away on guitar, had a smile it was impossible not to smile along with. They’re easily the most adorable pair of lovebirds we’ve ever played with—OK, maybe it’s a tie with Schwervon, but that’s a high standard indeed. It looks and sounds like the songs are going to be ramshackle, but then the chords are pure ’90s weirdness and the lyrics are hilarious and touching and the structures are tight and all of a sudden it’s gone from jokey to like a new favorite band. Serious hearts.
Daddy Don’t was so good we changed our set around to include some songs we thought they’d appreciate, like “Batman: The Ride” and especially “What Are You Gonna Do When You Find Bigfoot?” There was dancin. There were shouts from the crowd. It was just right. Later I see the other barista from the coffeeshop, the one playing the great music, so my silent goal has been fulfilled.
Smoker brought some fresh fire to their show. They were supposed to have vinyl for their new release, but it was slow in the mail, so they went forward without it, which was fine except I WANT THAT RECORD. They’re an amazing band, filling up every crevice of the room and the songs with layers of sound. Last we saw them, Bethany was 7+ months pregnant—and still tiny, except for the watermelon under her dress—but now we got to see her on the balls of her feet, adding a bunch of harmonies and getting into the songs. They’ve switched drummers since the tour too, and Jamie Dull is an amazing specimen, hitting the drums hard but the cymbals light, creating lots of sound but no racket. They were a psychedelic soundbath, and the new songs are spectacular. They just moved to Knoxville this year from Chicago, and I kept thinking how surprising it must be to their new city to suddenly have this fully developed, fully realized band in their midst. And did I mention that I WANT THAT RECORD?
We stayed with Evan DePue and his gal Kitty and their kitties in the midst of a Tennessee jungle; the yard around their house is a glorious riot of wild plants and whistling insects. Half of Smoker et al works at Tomatohead, it turns out, a restaurant off Gay with a menu that makes you want to eat forever. This was the weekend of the opening game of the Volunteers, so we ate on the patio and watched the endless sea of orange swell and cheer and wander and toss balls in our little hollow in the mountains.
Sleepy Kitty / The Prairie Willows / Post-Timey String Band / Tim McManus
September 1, Conundrum Hall, Columbia SC
As we drive through the Smokey Mountains, Paige is alternately googling facts about Columbia SC and cheering with delight as we pass shreds of thick mist among the trees. Turns out Columbia was the site of the Secession Convention, South Carolina was the first state to secede, and it’s known as “the capital of Southern hospitality.” Both Aziz Ansari and Hootie & The Blowfish are from Columbia, which is the largest city in the state. So is Stanley Donan, director of some of Paige’s favorite movies. When we stop for gas on the way, Paige talks to a man who refers to Columbia’s past “in the war between the States,” and tells her not to go to a certain neighborhood, Five Points, “unless you’re well armed.” That’s what people say about both East St. Louis and our own Cherokee Street—two vastly different hoods—so we don’t know what to do with his advice. At least he didn’t call it “The War of Northern Aggression.”
Conundrum Hall is on a plain-looking stretch of road. We pull up, get out, and notice a gathering of people in a mowed field behind the club, doing something we can’t quite discern. As we walk around the building a few of them nod and smile, and a gal with a pretty smile comes up and says, “Hey there, you’re Sleepy Kitty, right? I’m Rae. We’re just about to start the three-legged race; you want to jump in?” Sure enough, everyone’s paired up and twined together. You never know what’s next…
So we’re playing a thing called “Haywire: An Adult Field Day,” that our host Rae has put together. It involves sparklers, water balloons, tag, squirters, and a lot of runnin around. In between each game a band plays inside. Really, it’s an ideal setup. Still getting our bearings, we slip away for a sec to get sandwiches down the road so we don’t miss any of the bands. When we get back, a flushed and happy (and soaked) Rae says in dismay, “You missed the whole water balloon fight?!” She gives us some vegan potato salad and says she’ll pay for dinner. She’s clearly the best.
Inside it’s cool and dark and friendly. Tim McManus has just gotten back from a long trip in Russia, we gather—like, he just got back the day before—and everyone there is glad to see him. They throw him some friendly heckles between every song; everyone seems to know the words already and sings along. He does a sort of manic accordion busking gypsy punk thing, impossible not to like.
In fact, everyone seems to know each other already. When the Post-Timey String Band gets onstage (after a distracted game of sparkler tag outside), they play songs as called out or suddenly recalled, and it feels more like we’re in a campfire circle than sitting in an audience watching a stage. They’re a two-piece, with Kelley Maclachlan on guitar and vocals and kazoo, and Sean Thomson on electric guitar and banjo. She’s got pretty eyes and he’s got an impressive beard and their harmonies are gorgeous, both leaning in to share the same mic. His guitar playing is remarkable, and as the set goes on it becomes clear he’s got serious chops in folk, bluegrass, and rock styles, and can slip around between them all conversationally. She’s got a strong clear voice and lyrics that sound like something John Hartford might have written. Their dynamic together is intimate, though we find out later that they’re not a couple. They certain play like two people who understand each other thoroughly. Meanwhile, a voice from the crowd harmonizes sweetly here and there throughout the set.
The Prairie Willows announce that this is their new name, since The Pussy Willows was deemed inappropriate for one member’s new job as a music teacher. They’re three gals, including Maclachlan, the voice from the crowd—Perrin, in a pretty blue dress—and Kristen, who sings and fiddles. Everybody’s talking and singing about whiskey, and you can start to feel the effects. Their set is loose and excellent and they take requests as they go. Kelley says something about how she’d ask people to buy the album, but everyone here either already has it or played on it. Certainly feels like it.
We set up as the final game unfolds in the dark outside. Seems like it mainly involves laughing and sparklers. Mine is the only drumset of the night, and we sure hope no one’s bummed out by a big amp and big drums. But we kick into “Speaking Politely” and then “Seventeen,” and we can see past the stage lights that some of the gals have pushed some seats into a circle and are playing musical chairs as we go—another first. There’s plenty of applause, and people start asking us questions. It feels like we’ve been invited to a birthday party where we only know the host, but soon enough we’re part of the crowd. We play a few more songs and someone says, “Does Sleepy Kitty have a place to stay?” We admit we do not, and a bidding war ensues! “I’ve got a couch y’all can stay on.” “We’ve got a futon!” “Ooh, you should stay with them, their place is posh.” The house with the most cats wins it.
We load up quick and follow Kristen to the Foxfield, a bar near her place. It’s a perfect little spot that also has live music and a great patio. Half the Conundrum crowd is there, in fact, so we fall into more conversation and drinks with them. Even though I hadn’t known Columbia existed until today, it feels like we have a whole new circle of friends. Plus, it’s totally obvious that St. Louis would LOVE The Prairie Willows and the Post-Timey String Band, and I’m already half-thinking of a project we can invent so we can get Sean to play guitar with us. I didn’t expect to feel so warmly about this city, but now I can’t wait to get back here and catch up with Rae, Sean, Tim, Kristen, Kelley, Perrin, and the Foxfield bartender who bought our CD unheard, just based on a good night together. That’s what I’m talkin about: this is tour done right, clinking glasses late in the night with new friends, snug in the capital of Southern hospitality.
Did you enjoy this Road Blog? Let us know in the comments below!